It’s been a long time coming and a moment I’ve been waiting for, but Google has finally made the Pixel phone I’ve always wanted. While the Google Pixel 6 Pro has a good few teething problems, it still feels like a true flagship phone to take on the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.
My fondness for Pixel phones is nothing new; last year I noted the Google Pixel 5 was my favorite phone of 2020, and I’ve used every generation of Pixel since the very first XL phone. So it's no surprise that I was waiting on tender hooks for the Pixel 6 Pro, especially as Google had started teasing it months in advance.
I’m a big fan of the idealized version of Android approach Google took with the Pixels, along with the tech they introduced; the original Pixel set a bar for computational photography and virtual assistants, the Pixel 2 had squeezable sides, the Pixel 3 offered twin front-facing cameras, and the Pixel 4 had the Soli radar chip.
Admittedly, the Pixel 5 didn’t offer anything special other than a capable affordable Google phone with great cameras.
Despite all of this, there wasn't a Pixel that I’ve decided to stick with for any length of time. And that’s because they’ve always had missing features or flaws that have seen me swap over to another phone.
The original Pixel’s design and features quickly dated. The Pixel 2 XL had a lackluster display with the smaller handset sporting hefty bezels. The Pixel 3’s single rear camera and lack of under-display fingerprint sensor started to feel basic in the face of Samsung Galaxy phones.
And the Pixel 4 felt more like a tech experiment for radar chips than a true flagship phone, despite its excellent cameras. Finally, the Pixel 5 was great, but it didn’t compete with proper flagship specs.
But with a large 120Hz display, a trio of cameras, plenty of performance and a striking design, the Pixel 6 Pro is an honest-to-goodness Android flagship for power users.
Pixel 6 Pro: One speedy screen
While I’d recommend the standard Google Pixel 6 for most people, the Pixel 6 Pro feels made for me.
After some eight months of using the excellent Oppo Find X3 Pro, I’ve become one of those people who notices the difference between a 90Hz and 120Hz refresh rate display. It’s far from huge, but it's there.
So the decision by Google to go full 120Hz on the Pixel 6 Pro was music to my ears. And in use the large 6.71-inch display is a joy to behold, mixing balanced colors with a smooth refresh rate.
Room to zoom on the Pixel 6 Pro
Another reason the Pro model floats my boat is the addition of a telephoto camera. Dropped by the Pixel 5 after its debut on the Pixel 4 XL, it's good to see a zoom lens make a return.
I get why phone makers prioritize an ultra-wide angle over a telephoto camera, but I find it’s a lot easier to get further away from a subject than closer. It’s a boon that the telephoto camera on the Pixel 6 Pro is also a 4x optical zoom and delivers some solid close-up photos.
Google Pixel 6 Pro: Raising the bar
Some may hate it, but I adore the Pixel 6 Pro’s design. That large camera bar stands out from the crowd of pill-shaped or squared camera modules.
And the deep black contrasts nicely against the white of my unit, looking a little like a phone a Star Wars Stormtrooper might use. To my eyes there’s a retro sci-fi look to the Pixel 6 Pro that’s both familiar and fresh at the same time.
I also really like the gentle curved edges of the display, which combined with the phone's sharper rectangular shape reminds me of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and Galaxy Note 10 Plus, both high points of smartphone design for me.
The glassy back might feel slippery, but the camera bar offers a lip which I can rest a finger against, providing an extra bit of grip. And the phone’s overall size and shape makes it great for getting stuff done on the go, not least because having a clean, unfussy version of Android 12 really is a joy to use.
Meanwhile, on the inside, the custom Tensor chip might not keep pace with Apple’s A15 Bionic or beat the Snapdragon 888, but it feels smarter. It’s tricky to tell how many of the smart features on the Pixel 6 are dependent on the custom silicon.
But knowing how Google is active on adding features to its Pixels after launch, I feel it has a lot more to get out of Tensor. Even if it under-delivers here, the Tensor chip simply makes the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro feel like more interesting Android phones than others available.
And that’s what I want from a Pixel — a phone that does the flagship basics very well but also scratches a techie itch. I think Google has nailed that with the Pixel 6 Pro.
Is it perfect? Absolutely not; a lack of proper fast charging and face unlock hold it back. There’s a lot of competition on our best Android phones list, many of which offer the same features as the Pixel 6 Pro.
But it's the combination of all the things I wanted in a phone with that clean Pixel finish and layer of smarts that makes the Pixel 6 Pro the Android phone I’ve been waiting for. And I suspect it won’t be far from my side over the next 12 months. The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra could prove me wrong, but it’s definitely got a fight on its hands.
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Roland Moore-Colyer a Managing Editor at Tom’s Guide with a focus on news, features and opinion articles. He often writes about gaming, phones, laptops and other bits of hardware; he’s also got an interest in cars. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face.